Adult ADHD – common questions and misunderstandings

Adult ADHD – common questions and misunderstandings

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a disability that impacts multiple areas of someone’s life. If you or someone you know has recently been diagnosed with adult ADHD, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed, especially if you don’t understand the condition yet.

“Though people with ADHD are more likely to have difficulties with work, study, relationships, and physical health, with appropriate treatments and supports, people with ADHD can have great outcomes,” says psychiatrist Dr Dave Carmody. He has seen many people with ADHD thrive with rich, fulfilling lives. One of the first steps on the way to reaching these outcomes is to learn about the condition. This can be harder than it sounds, especially because ADHD is often misunderstood. Here, we address some common questions and misunderstandings about adult ADHD.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is called a neurodevelopmental disorder. If you have ADHD, this means that your brain developed differently from neurotypical individuals, and this difference impacted how you think, communicate, and behave. As a person with ADHD, you might have hyperactivity and impulsivity, or problems with controlling what you pay attention to, or a combination of these symptoms.

Diagnostic criteria stipulate that ADHD lasts at least six months; in reality, it usually lasts for years, and is often life-long. It usually becomes evident before the age of 12. It can go undiagnosed for years, though, especially in people who don’t have as many impulsive symptoms (this can mean that women are likely to be diagnosed later, for example).

I have ADHD. How can it impact me?

With appropriate treatment, support, and accommodations, you can thrive with ADHD, even though it is a disability.

The impact of ADHD on your thinking, communication, and behaviour doesn’t need to stop you from living a full and rewarding life. There are evidence-based treatments available. With appropriate treatment, support, and accommodations, you can have great outcomes.

This doesn’t mean that you’ll meet all your goals and change all your ADHD symptoms instantly, of course. ADHD is a disability, and untreated ADHD can be exhausting. By the time someone gets a diagnosis, they are likely to have been struggling for a while. Some people with ADHD use the term “ADHD burnout” to refer to the symptoms of burnout they experienced as a consequence of trying to manage their ADHD symptoms without adequate support or treatment.

If you are newly diagnosed with ADHD, we encourage you to take things one step at a time – some parts of treatment and some lifestyle changes will take a while, so it’s best to break them down into smaller goals. We encourage you to celebrate all the wins that you have as you go.

How is it diagnosed?

ADHD is diagnosed via an in-depth series of assessments, including a clinical interview, medical assessments, cognitive assessments, and questionnaires. As part of the assessment of your baseline health status, you may also have a blood pressure check and may need to provide a urine sample.

Your diagnostic assessment may involve finding reports from your school experiences as a child and/or sending questionnaires to your family. This is all done after discussion with you and you are aware of all the people contacted.

What are the treatment options?

If you have newly-diagnosed ADHD, it will be important to ensure that you have healthy exercise habits, sleep habits, and eating habits.

Your overall treatment regime may include medication and a course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Medications help to control the core symptoms of distractibility, short attention span, and impulsivity, while CBT helps you to foster healthy habits, self-management skills, interpersonal interactions, and emotional self-regulation.

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